After a pretty steady run of rivers it was time to stay ashore for the weekend and head to Steens Mountain. Steens Mountain is a huge fault block mountain in southeastern Oregon. From the west it’s a steady incline, from the east a steep dramatic drop off. The western side is also riddled with dramatic glacial canyons you can only appreciate with a good hike. We arrived for the weekend just before dark on Friday night at South Steens campground. There were about four other camps, not bad for a Friday night. Just as we set up and had the fire started the rain set in and we spent the rest of the night in the camper.
Next morning we were off to hike up the Big Indian Gorge. I’d only been here once before quite a while back. It wasn’t a wilderness then, but it was probably a little more wild. Anyhow, we made our way toward the gorge, a big glacial carved canyon cutting deep into the west side of the mountain. Note the new snow from the night before. It is June, right?
Well, a three day turnaround between the Owyhee and the North Fork John Day river trips was pretty luxurious for prep time so we shortened it down to one day back home before we were headed to our third river in three weeks, the lower John Day. The Clarno to Cottonwood float is about 70 miles and you can’t have any appreciation for the country you float through unless you see it from the water.
You start out in some pretty, well, lets just say, agricultural, country. Country infested with noxious weeds, showing lots of signs of erosion, plenty of cows eating down the riparian area and broken down abandoned equipment.
But before the end of the first day you start to get away from all that and you float into paradise for the next 4 days.
A mere three days passed between pulling off the Owyhee and our next river trip of the spring, a three-day float down the North Fork John Day.
We attempted this trip last year but the flows dropped too low just days before the launch. With the deep snow pack this year flows weren’t an issue. The North Fork is a different setting than the main John Day. For most of the 41 mile float you are in ponderosa pine and even some Douglas-fir. It’s almost more of a Grande Ronde feel than the dry country of the main John Day.